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From Post-Socialism to the City of the Spectacle. Two Commercial Buildings in Tallinn – City Plaza and 4 Rävala Avenue

ANDRES KURG

18.04.2007

City Plaza Tartu mnt. 2

Authors: Andres Alver, Tiit Trummal, Tarmo Laht, Indrek Rünkla, Martin Melioranski, Ulla Mets (Alver Trummal Arhitektid)
Structural design: Tiit Masso; Pike Projekt
Completed: 2001-2004

Ärihoone Rävala 4

Autorid/Authors: Andres Alver, Tiit Trummal, Tarmo Laht, Indrek Rünkla, Ulla Mets, Sven Koppel (Alver Trummal Arhitektid)
Konstruktor/Structural design: Eido Uustalu (Eesti Projekt)
Completed: 2001-2006
Net area: 12072 m2

I
Some of the recent buildings in the centre of Tallinn seem to have recognised the possibility of architecture to offer spectacular surplus value. For example, the towering round "stupas" at the beginning of Narva Road, the empty shiny steel pipes on the facade of Hotel Tallink, and most recently, the bare branches sticking out from under the gym at the English College. Each represents a different aspect of this tendency – the first one’s message is a transcendent one, the second speaks of new ornamentalism, and the third has a sense of the absurd about it – yet they all manifest a new kind of architectural freedom and an unconditional affirmation (a €$-regime, if you like), which has little to do with former values. Such a diagnosis could very well be advantageous, indicating a passage from the overly self-absorbed (theoretical) games of the past to a more extroverted architecture, and perhaps offering a response to public criticisms of the construction boom in the late 20th century in Estonia, that produced an “architecture of bleak tin boxes”. Yet the more this architecture denies its own past, the easier it is for such an assertive stance to represent not a new paradigm, but rather the disappearance of principles – the logic of “anything goes” merely satisfying the customer's desire to stand out as well as serving life-style journalism, which is its tool. This kind of architecture interprets the new freedom in the same way that the ex-mayor of Tallinn, Tõnis Palts, interpreted tolerance – as entrepreneurial tolerance. Thus, the original critical change-oriented concept starts to designate its very opposite, and architecture, instead of being liberated, falls into the even firmer grip of the client.

II
The architecture of the critically minded Alver-Trummal bureau seems to have risen above this attitude. As the younger contemporaries of the “Tallinn 10” group, Andres Alver and Tiit Trummal became active architects during the post-modernist wave of the 1980s, and as a result also went through the literary and historicist period. But whether it was because they stood apart from those ten, or for some other reason, nevertheless they did not share the previous generation's nostalgia for the past, nor did they relate closely to functionalism of Estonian architecture from the 1920s and 30s. Which does not mean that that for them contextuality or the past is forbidden. On the contrary, the Ferrum department store in the centre of Kuressaare (2003) is, for example, designed with utmost awareness of its surrounding forms

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